Can we make an agreement outside of court?

It is no secret people want to avoid paying an attorney whenever possible.  Divorcing couples or parents smartly try talking out their legal issues to find common ground and make agreements outside of court thinking they solved their legal issues without involving attorneys.  Their agreements may come before any court proceeding exists or sometime after a judge signs an Order finalizing a case.

There is a significant problem with these agreements – they are not enforceable by the court so one or both of the parties can change his mind at any time.

Minnesota law requires agreements to be binding, valid contracts.  Not all written agreements are contracts even if both parties signed a piece of paper.  Verbal contracts are hard to prove because they are as good as the piece of paper they are written on.  A valid contract requires in part:

  • mutual benefit to both parties
  • fairness
  • a negotiation on the exact terms
  • an agreement that is allowable by state law
  • the parties be legally bound by its terms

Informal agreements, if they are valid, may not be clear.  They can be complicated and expensive to defend in court if a judge has to get involved.  Judges, who can void informal agreements, can order parents to try to renegotiate their agreement which may not be possible because one person has changed his mind.

Rather than risking an agreement that could fall apart or is unworkable, hiring an attorney to draft a legally recognized and thought out agreement is the best option.  Not every agreement requires expensive legal work.  An attorney can fine tune an agreement, make sure it is valid under Minnesota law and offer ideas to make the agreement even stronger.

Just as important, the attorney helps make the agreement enforceable by presenting it to the judge for signature.  Having that valid Order signed by the judge holds both parties accountable.  Both need to comply with the agreement.

If you have questions about enforcing agreements, contact experienced family law attorney Jessica L. Sterle at (218) 722-2655 to schedule a consultation.

Jessica Sterle